Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Discussing Sexuality With Children?

The Question:

Hi there,

I just have to ask, how and when do you discuss sexuality with children?  What do you include, or leave out?  I have a seven year old, and was surprised to learn that many of her friends have already had the talk from their parents.  My daughter hasn't expressed any curiosity about where babies come from, or how our bodies change, etc.  Help!

Thank you,

The Answer:

Dear Anonymous,

I'll confess that I made a lot of mistakes in this area.  I grew up in the most "Victorian" of homes and the topic of sex was never discussed.  Never.  So I sort of had the idea that since I managed to figure things out, it wasn't absolutely necessary to go into much detail with my children.

As a matter of fact, just a moment ago, while I was typing this response, my daughter, Marlee, who is at BYU,  sent an instant message and we had the following conversation:

marlee: MOM

me: Marlee! hello.

marlee: are you at school?

me: yes

marlee: me too!

me: I'm answering an Asking Jane letter about when to talk to your children about sex.  Not exactly my strong point.

marlee: haha.  Just say: "Don't tell them. That's what I did."

There you have it--a little glimpse into one of my weak spots.  So I'm going to answer this question based on what I know now and what I would do now if I had it to do over again.

What I did:
I expected my husband to talk with the boys, while I handled the topic (haphazardly) with the girls.

What I should have done:
As a mother, I would talk with each of my children--boys and girls--and make sure that this topic was safe and comfortable in our home.

What I did:
I waited until they asked before I talked to them.

What I should have done:
At around 10-12 (depending on the child), I would initiate this conversation if it hadn't come up yet.  I know there is disagreement about when.  A lot of people think 8 is ideal but I think it might be a little hard for my 8-year-olds to swallow.

What I did:
I assumed that once I'd talked to most of them, the word would filter down through the ranks.  So some slipped through the cracks.

What I should have done: 
I should never have treated this vital topic carelessly.  I should have seen that each of my children was taught individually.

What I did right!
I really taught modesty at an early age and a high regard for the body.  I didn't allow crudeness.

When I did sit down and talk to my daughters, I taught them in the context of our Heavenly Father's plan for us.  I used the Proclamation on the Family as a guide.  This conversation was really powerful because it became clear that Satan had an arsenal of ammunition and our discussion led to the many ways he uses it.  This topic really does invite the spirit because it is at the core of our creation and purpose.  Since I had often taught my children the plan of salvation, and they had an understanding of why they were here on the earth, they easily accepted this new information.

This is a wicked world and Satan has hit new lows in his distortion and display of sex. It's not okay to approach this responsibility in the careless way that I did.  We must give a clear and timely understanding to our children.  I hope that you can learn from my mistakes.

With love,


  1. This is the question I have been composing in my head all week to send to you! What timing! Except I have been thinking of the older ages and how to approach it with them. My son is only 4, and has been asking increasingly more q's about the differences between boys and girls and anatomy, amongst other issues I never expected at this age. I think he's just an inquisitive little boy, and never has been exposed to things that are abnormal. But any advice on that age group? When I had no children I decided to be open about it and not create it into this taboo topic, because like Jane, my parents very much avoided the subject. But now that I actually have a child asking me q's, that decision seems crazy. He feels much too young to be knowing that stuff. How do other people handle it with younger kids?

  2. I don't feel like children are ever to young to know the basic anatomy of boys and girls and the basic, simple, honest answers about our differences. There is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. We can explain everything to them AT THEIR LEVEL. I like teaching my children, even my youngest who is 3, that it is very important they are a boy, or a girl and repeat over and over that Heavenly Father wanted them to be that way. It's very special. If they ask me the name of a body part, I tell them. It is what it is. I also want them to be able to confidently express to me any concerns they might have in this area. If we are open and honest with them, they will be with us, right? That is my hope anyway.

    As real and basic as our sexuality is, it can be such an awkward thing to talk about. Why? I don't know. I love Jane's advice for using "The Proclamation" and reading it individually with each child. Perfect. Simple.

    I know we are all entitled to personal revelation for our children and family, so as Jane said, it should be a very spiritual conversation with our children. We CAN pray to receive help in this area. I mean, God created our sexuality, of course he would direct us in teaching our children!!


  3. THank you Jane! I love love love reading your blog! I drink up your good advice like a hearty vegetable soup on a cold day! :)

    This was great, my daughter is 7 as well and the thoughts cross my mind often as to when to talk to her. Great subject!


  4. Before I had kids I taught elementary school. When I was teaching second grade in a really nice, well educated community, I had issues with students being inappropriately touched by other kids on the playground. I used to agree with what I know my mom would say,and wait until they're getting closer to twelve when they start having questions, but this experienced changed that point of view dramatically. If they are old enough to be out of my direct supervision at all times, they are old enough to be taught to know how sacred these parts of our body are and what to do if someone else doesn't treat them right. We've got to give our children what they need to live in this scary world. I will not let the playground be the first place they are educated about sex.
    And I also loved Jane's comments, just wanted to add those thoughts about timing.

  5. One of my greatest fears is that my children will be molested. It is so common now that its frightening. I try to always welcome sexual questions with calm reassuring firm answers so my kids will feel safe and comfortable coming to me about anything. They are all still young and all bathe together, boys and girls (all four- its getting crowded!), and I have tried to teach them the special sacred nature of their private parts and always stress that NO ONE else should ever touch them there. Those are the sexual things that they need to know right now. The rest will come later.

  6. My mom was an RN, and was always open about sex. When I was 2, she got pregnant with my brother, and bought the book A Child Is Born. It was birth control for the next 26 years, lol.

    Honestly, though, she taught me about birth control, and protecting myself against STDs, always adding her preference that I wait until I'm married.

    I DID wait until I was married. But it was good to have the information, because a LOT of my friends DIDN'T.

    And when I was 12 and was inappropriately touched by my cousin's cousin, it was my parents I called, 600 miles away, at 2 am. I never felt ashamed talking to them about anything. In fact, I felt empowered in being able to stop the abuse. I know of others who aren't so fortunate.

    Good luck to all of us parents who get to discuss these things with our children. It's a daunting task, but with the Spirit all things can be done.

  7. Jane...
    I just found your blog and I feel that you are heaven sent. I am a mother of two. Being a mom consumes me and is a subject that I LOVE and I spend all day long and most of the night thinking about. It is always good to talk to others and get advice and I am quite impressed with everything that you have written.
    Thank you for all of your loving advice to help us new mothers that are trying our best.

  8. Just a funny story to illustrate a simple point. At younger ages like your son, I think it can be easy to forget how simple their minds work - so to keep our answers simple (like the first person said). And sometimes ask more information before we start our long talk. Case in point: when I was a very young girl my mom was expecting or just had my brother. I was sitting in the tub talking to her and asked where babies come from. She told me what I'm sure was a very cute and basic story of the birds and the bees. When she was finally done, I looked up at her very annoyed and said, "No mom, I mean, will a baby come out of my belly button?"

  9. She oddly never spoke to me about sex again.... Hummmmm

  10. I would like to add something because of a discussion I had with my dad the other day. (Yes, I was talking about sex with my dad. My family is VERY open.)

    I think most kids have a time when they hit puberty, where they start noticing changes in their same gender's bodies. For me, it was 7th grade gym class. I'd change in the locker room, and sneak a peak at the other girls changing their clothes. When I was talking to female friends, I found it hard not to stare at their chests. etc. Because of this, I was CONVINCED I was a lesbian. I waited a few weeks before I finally went and "confessed" to my mom. She then explained to me that looking at other bodies was normal, and I was just learning. My dad had a similar experience, but was TERRIFIED of talking to his parents about it. I have decided that about the time my kids hit puberty, I will have this discussion with them and let them know that it's normal to notice ALL bodies, not just the opposite sex.

    I agree that you should teach your kids as early as possible that NO ONE touches their privates. Even in the bathtub, as soon as they're able, they should be washing themselves.

    A book I really like is "Arming Your Children With the Gospel." It talks about this a little more in depth, and when I find that chapter, I'll come back and post about it. But basically they say to keep it simple and only answer the questions your kids ask. If they are 4 and ask, "Where do babies come from?" Then you should clarify what they're asking. Like Fichtner said, maybe they mean belly button. You don't need to go into detail about it.

  11. I liked Mrs. comment and Jane's thoughts, and some of the others. This CANNOT be something that is swept under the rug in the world we currently live in (and heaven only knows 10 years from now) regarding sexuality. Not everyone gets it on their own- in fact, I've seen it tear full-grown women and their marriage apart from lack of understanding. It's also serious because of abuse and "playground education." Answer as simply and honestly as possible for their age. However, I might add that when they hit puberty is TOO LATE. It's got to be before they have those hormones and changes raging through their bodies- you wouldn't want them to hear about the dangers of alcohol on the ride home from school the afternoon AFTER they had been offered and accepted them, right? Educate.

  12. With the average first exposure of boys to pornography at 8 years, now, I think we are living in a world where sex should be discussed openly as part of life.

    My husband and I have spoken to youth groups around the country regarding pornography, and not one of them could ever define it for us--many had never discussed these things with their parents at all.

    The church family guidebook has an excellent section regarding how to speak to children about sex, and I would highly recommend the book "He Restoreth My Soul" by Dr. Donald Hilton regarding pornography. He is a neurosurgeon and is featured on the church's combatting pornography website.

    I also love Elder Holland's magnificent "Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments."

    There are many 12 year old children in our midst already addicted to pornography--and they became addicted without even fully understanding what it was. Teaching sexuality at 10-12 is many years too late, unfortunately.

    I must also add that I absolutely love this blog. You are an amazing woman!

  13. I tried to comment earlier, but had some problems. I hope this works!

    First, I don't think early exposure to sex or jokes is a thing of our times. I am 33 years old and remember hearing dirty jokes about sex when I was in kindergarten on the playground. My parents didn't discuss sex with me ever. But I heard plenty about it from my classmates when I was in grade school.
    So I strongly feel that if you don't teach your kids about sex, they will learn it from someone else. And you can bet that it won't be what you want them to know.
    Second, with exposure to pornography becoming so prevalent, I have a vital role to play in helping my boys understand sex and identifying pornography for what it is.
    Third, molestation is very a real threat--not just from older adults, but from peers. I don't think it is any more common than in the past, but that we are more aware of it. By teaching my children about sexuality, the sacredness of their body, I am arming them to be able to avoid abuse and tell me of any problems.
    Fourth, I think that many of my LDS peers struggle with appropriate sexual relationships when they marry because if they heard about sex it was always in negative terms. Proper teaching about sex can help them make that adjustment when they marry.
    I have started talking with my kids about their bodies at a young age. When they are really little, I tell them that no one should touch their private parts.
    As they get older, we talk about sex in terms of the plan of happiness. I remind my kids that jokes about sex are wrong because they degrade the sacred nature of sex.
    I periodically review the information they have, giving my kids chances to ask questions. I remind them of our standards.
    I think also following the Spirit is essential in these types of conversations. A few months ago, I had a very strong impression that I needed to warn my sons about the dangers of pornography. I took that prompting to heart and ended up teaching a Family Home Evening lesson about it. The lesson went very well and my boys and I had a very good discussion.
    I also think that leaving the sex talk up to one parent of assigning boys to fathers and girls to mother can be helpful in some ways, but it is also good for the other parent to initiate conversations. When I had that prompting to talk to my boys, my husband was out of town. I took the lead because it was important to do.

  14. I wanted to be the first person to talk to my children about this, so we had an anatomy discussion and how babies are made at around age 7. It was a really great spiritual discussion, and though I could tell it was brand new information, I felt peace in knowing we introduced the topic instead of kids at school. The funniest comment that came out of my sons mouth was, "I've never seen you and dad do that." I was proud of myself that I kept a straight face.

  15. When I was eight years old, I was blissfully unaware of what sex was until one of my friends told me how babies were made. I approached my mom about it, telling her in a concerned voice that it "just doesn't sound right!" I laugh about my comment now. We were always open in our family, so my mom took the opportunity to tell me THE WHOLE STORY.

    Since I was still completely innocent, I would have much preferred a short, concise answer, and save the rest of the discussion for later, at various intervals of the next few years of my life. The amount of information I got in that hour-long discussion was overwhelming!

    The anatomy of sex, the reasons for sex, puberty, periods, personal cleanliness and worthiness, pornography and pure thoughts, are all good discussion topics for parents and children to have, at whatever ages seem most appropriate. I just think it's important to not overwhelm little minds with too much, all in one sitting!


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